This report is based a half-day gathering of thirty-five practitioners and researchers that took place on September 12, 2013, at Downtown Art's East Village studio. Downtown Art is a member of Fourth Arts Block, a nonprofit coalition of cultural and community groups that lead the development of the East 4th Street Cultural District, the only official cultural district in Manhattan. This gathering was convened by Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts -- New York (NOCD-NY), a citywide alliance of artists, activists, creative manufacturers, and policy makers committed to revitalizing New York City "from the neighborhood up." Through presentations, questions, and dialogue, participants learned about the structural inequities that exist in cities and philanthropy and gained deeper insight into the power of neighborhood cultural clusters as sources of community health and resilience.
The exchange grew out of NOCD-NY's initial explorations around a collaborative research agenda that responds to the shared needs of members. NOCD-NY recognized that coordinated efforts could broaden and deepen the impact of members' research (e.g., door-to-door surveys, oral histories, community asset mapping) already under way in their respective neighborhoods with the multiple goals of strengthening practice, understanding neighborhood and artist needs, case making, and field learning. At the same time, NOCD-NY members continue to grapple with one of the key challenges in this work -- identifying and communicating appropriate measures for the social, community, environmental, and economic impacts of these districts. While most people readily acknowledge that there is some degree of relationship between culture, community, and economy, the concrete connections are complex, subtle, and still largely undocumented. As a coalition of community-based cultural leaders, NOCD-NY was eager to tell a compelling story without falling back on data sets that diminish or dilute these complex connections. This gathering offered an entry point from which to explore research approaches and tools that can make visible the value of this work.